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Another Ukrainian flight lands at Mattala pending approval for new set of guidelines ahead of BIA opening



Udayanga denies accusations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The fifth flight carrying Ukrainian tourists landed in the country’s second international airport at Mattala yesterday (7) as the SLPP government vowed to go ahead with what Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga called a pilot project of pivotal importance in the run-up to re-opening of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).

Minister Ranatunga told a gathering at Minuwangoda that in spite of some hiccups the pilot project was on track. The minister acknowledged the recent problems caused by the failure on their part to adhere to specific health guidelines in place to neutralize the Covid-19 threat. The SLPP Gampaha District heavyweight said that approximately 600 Ukrainians were here since the arrival of the first flight on Dec 28.

The fifth flight had brought 183 passengers though the original schedule envisaged 215 persons, an aide to Minister Ranatunga told The Island.

The entire group and the airline crew were subjected to PCR tests.

Responding to another query, the official said that with the latest arrivals, the total number of visitors was approximately 800.

According to a copy of the schedule made available to The Island, there would be altogether ten flights from Ukraine before the government re-opened the BIA on January 21.

There would be two more flights on January 22 and 24 from Ukraine to Mattala after the re-opening of the BIA, the official said. Acknowledging that their original plan was to bring in 2,580 passengers in 12 ‘Sky Up’ and ‘Ukrainian International Airline’ flights from Dec 28, 2020 to January 24, 2021 to test Sri Lanka’s preparedness to re-open BIA.

The official said that some of those who had been planning to visit Sri Lanka pulled out at the last moment though the vast majority responded positively. All flights originated from Ukraine’s capital Kiev.

The remaining flights are scheduled to touch down at Mattala on January 8, 12, 14, 15, 19, 22 and 24. All remaining flights will also originate from Kiev.

The official said that authorities expect over 2,000 to visit Sri Lanka though the original plan was to facilitate the arrival of 2,580.

Referring to the recent incident at Yala where Ukrainian project prompter Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Moscow Udayanga Weeratunga had been accused of violating agreed health protocols, Minister Ranatunga said that once they realized the shortcomings immediate remedial measures were taken.

Minister Ranatunga claimed that due to the delay in the Tourism Ministry receiving relevant health guidelines, they weren’t available down the line, hence the breakdown in communications. However, acknowledging their shortcomings, Minister Ranatunga also faulted those responsible for organizing the Ukrainian project for not properly informing them.

According to Minister Ranatunga, three companies had been involved in the pilot project to allow visitors from what he called the Russian region.

The Tourism Ministry promptly responded to Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando’s scathing attack on protocol violations. In a letter dated January 2, 2021, Fernando warned of dire consequences if tour operators were allowed to flout protocols.

Explaining the measures adopted by Ukrainians before the groups departed, Minister Ranatunga emphasized the need to have a different set of protocols/guidelines in respect of tourists. Those who visit the country for a week or two couldn’t be expected to follow the procedures in place for those Sri Lankans returning home, Minister Ranatunga said, revealing that the Tourism Ministry had sought approval from health authorities for a new set of protocols ahead of the opening of the BIA.

The minister said that they expected the approval ahead of the BIA re-opening.

Minister Ranatunga said that health guidelines meant for tourists would prevent transmission of coronavirus from tourists to locals and vice versa.

Explaining how the places for Ukranians to visit were chosen, Minister Ranatunga assured they wouldn’t be taken to Dalada Maligawa if the Buddhist clergy opposed it.

According to the Minister, of the 600 who had been here before Thursday’s arrivals, only two were tested positive for corona. However, earlier media reported that six Ukrainians had been tested positive.

Meanwhile, State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, appearing in ‘Aluth Parlimenthuwa’ on Wednesday (6) strongly defended the government decision to launch pilot project ahead of the re-opening of the BIA. Acknowledging the risks involved, Dr. Godahewa explained that the government couldn’t delay taking meaningful measures to kick start tourism until Covid-19 epidemic was brought under total control. Responding to former JVP lawmaker Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, State Minister Godahewa emphasized the need to go ahead with tourism revival plans regardless of criticism.

Pointing out how the government swiftly responded to criticism pertaining to the Ukranian project, Dr. Godahewa said that in spite of immense challenges, the government efforts to improve the situation were on track. The tourism project was a key part of the overall project, the Viyathmaga heavyweight said, dismissing Opposition accusations of incompetence and unilateral measures at the times of unprecedented crises.

Former Ambassador Weeratunga appeared on television on Wednesday to defend the ongoing project. Weeratunga said that though there had been some issues with the project there was no basis for accusations that protocols were violated. Weeratunga emphasized the need to provide an opportunity for tourists to visit the country.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 



By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre



By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments




The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.


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